(Video from Duangle’s Nowhere, a surreal sandbox game set outside of everything, title from a M. Brough game).
Sometimes 20JFG’s mother – yes, 20JFG has a mother, and she has many faces, and claws so sharp she leaves a trail of tears wherever she goes – questions 20JFG’s penchant for video games.
“Futile escapism”, she says, “pointless excursions into virtual worlds whose time you could instead spend on worthier pursuits, such as protecting our turf from incursions by rival psychedelic gangs (the Altered Zealots, Red Hook Street Boys, Golden Witches, you know the score), or extracting the grail from the pastel mind-rape cellars of an as-yet-unnamed web mogul.”
Oh mother, she doesn’t understand that our exploration of digitally rendered scenarios has a very practical rationale: we are making sure we don’t put all our cognitive eggs in a unique and therefore precious and irreplaceable basket.
We know from the work of a myriad ludologists of the importance of play in preparing children, kittens, puppies and cubs for the dangers of the ‘real world’, and we think it obvious that some of the most popular video games currently – shooting, racing and crime fantasies – act as simulators and training for situations our lizard brains were evolved to manage, and perhaps even require. They focus on somewhat anachronistic behaviours but this is only a stage.
The relevance of video games will increase as we migrate to an economy and society primarily involved in the manipulation of digital artefacts (loot), and in interacting with virtual representations of people and institutions (avatars) i.e. as the seminal Gibsonian hallucination is realised. It is not a coincidence that sci-fi writer Hannu Rajaniemi describes future worlds where one of the most advanced (and weirdest) tribes, the Zoku, have their origins in contemporary gaming culture.
The future equivalents of the saber-tooth tiger, barbarian armies and demonic possession will be monolithic conglomerates, antagonistic communities of practice (or fan-groups) and meme contagion. The future equivalents of physical prowess and academic credentials will be our ability to design information systems to get a grasp of the complex adaptive systems of which the world is made, and to configure modules of code and content into awesome architectures for others to explore. Video games that put us in situations where we face these complex threats, or where we have to navigate data-rich worlds and solve puzzles, and where we design new wonderful universes are preparations for that new world which isn’t quite there, but is coming.
So make no mistake when you see us jacked into lurid info-spaces Mother, stroking the simmering pseudopodia of emerging artificial intelligences, this is no party, this is no disco, we are grimly improving the odds of our gene-pool, being escapist in the sense that we escape from future threat and danger, and get ready for strange days to come, we get ready Mother.
Michael Brough’s (aka Brog) brutally smart & glitchedly beautiful games make us feel as we think Jobe must have felt in the Lawnmower Man while Pierce Brosnan inadvertently reconfigured his synapses into a new system that endowed him with weird super-powers. It is like morphing into an abstracted agent fighting for his rationality in a rogue-like economy populated by antagonistic algorithms that are totemic metaphors for constraints in bandwidth and meaning.
We doubt we will be hurling a swarm of virtual bees at you, calling all of the landlines in the world, or having liquid mercury sexy times any time soon (alas), but we are kind of sure that there will be a moment as yet unimaginable when we will recognise a pattern, and the pattern will be strange, and our reaction will be stranger, and for that same reason, it will dominate all others, and we’ll owe it to Brog. Like HS Thompson said, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Well if you slice weirdness with Occam’s Razor, you get incredible games (with wonderful soundtracks) like 868-Hack and Post-Future Vagabond. Check out of the videos. Here you have a soundcloud page with some of his ace music too.
DYAD is another example of the empathetic possibilities of games – here, you play as a single particle in the Large Hadron Collider, advancing at relativistic speed through a Minter neonbahn. Your interface with the world is visual and sonic, which is where David Kanaga comes in. He made the music for Proteus, an epiphany-dense island that is a game and also an instrument that you play as you play it. We still go on holidays there when the ‘real’ world gets too much. Here is what we wrote about it some time ago, and here is a video.
We are still waiting for the external manifestation of Proteus as a record release independent from our inner trip via the valleys whose voice it is.
DYAD, meanwhile, came out a few weeks ago in Mexican Summer/Software Shop. It is pretty awesome.
At the micro level it is up there with Boredoms’ Vision Creation Newsun, many of the tunes in Squarepusher’s Hard Normal Daddy or DJ Rashad in its propulsive rattle, the wonderfulness of particles of sound hurled at random infinities by the gaze of any given Heisenberg i.e. you.
At the meso level, these particles are tied to a wider system pulled in their journey like a solar sail gliding through black spaces pregnant with invisible energies.
At the macro level, you are perceptually entangled with this network and it takes you with it, the exhilaration is hard to describe. Like being the brightest spark of polychromatic fireworks hurled at the sky in a summer night, in a world at peace, transcending into velocity and burning into basic colours.
Now that’s what I call immersion.